The GOP’s highly entertaining civil war

Embarrassing defeat in government shutdown and debt ceiling face-off reveals cracks in GOP coalition.

While I have retired from political blogging, there is some value in pausing, from time to time, to remind our readers about past discussions of particular relevance to the events of the moment. One such opportunity presented itself this morning, as John “The Straight Talkin’ Mavericky Maverick” McCain and Mitch “The Voice of Reason” McConnell bubbled up on the old white guy/talking head circuit.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) sat down for an interview on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday to discuss the aftermath of the government shutdown and its negative impact on the Republican Party. Borger pressed McCain on the internal division within the GOP and asked him if his party had entered a period of civil war.

Borger asked McCain about the shutdown and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Earlier, Cruz expressed his frustration with Republican senators who did not support the shutdown effort. McCain said that Republicans had been the “leaders in the fight” against the Affordable Care Act long before Cruz got to the upper chamber of Congress.

“There are many ironies here, but one of them is the fiasco of this roll-out has been obscured because of this internecine strife that’s been going on in the Republican Party,” McCain said.

“Do you blame Ted Cruz for that?” Borger asked.

“I blame the whole effort,” McCain said. “Those involved in it went on a fool’s errand.”

McCain said that the shutdown has “hurt” the Republican Party brand, but said that pursuing immigration reform, fixing sequestration, and reducing taxes will help restore the public’s faith in the party.

Borger asked about conservative groups who have now targeted members of Congress that did not support the shutdown with primary challenges. “Are there two Republican Parties here now, in a civil war?” Borger asked.

A couple of years ago I made the case that the US two-party system masks the fact that we have roughly ten distinct natural political constituencies, with six of them trying to co-exist under the GOP flag.

  • Social Conservatives
  • Neocons
  • Business Conservatives
  • Traditional Conservatives (there’s probably a better term, but I’m thinking of old-line Western land and water rights types)
  • Blue Dog Democrats
  • New Democrats
  • Progressives
  • Libertarians: True
  • Libertarians: American (Tea Party)
  • Greens

There are points of overlap, obviously. In a pure parliamentary environment, these might hypothetically be ten distinct parties, or at least four or five. SocCons are defined by a fairly unitary range of religious concerns, and while they can easily make common cause with certain groups, economic issues are peripheral to their raison d’etre. Neocons and Business Conservatives (Country Club Cons) seem to overlap quite a bit and they appear to get on well with TradCons. The New Dems are functionally indistinguishable from Business Conservatives at this point in history, and the Blue Dogs might be thought of as New Dems with a healthy streak of SocCon running through them. There aren’t enough True Libertarians to shake a stick at, but the perspective is viable enough to be counted here. The American Libertarian/Tea Party is a strange brew driven by radical, race-inflected anti-tax and anti-government ideology. It has been heavily funded by BizCons, draws heavily on a bastardized understanding of the writings of Ayn Rand, and should never be confused with true Libertarianism.

What we’re seeing in the aftermath of the recent government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis are some of these cracks widening. On the one hand you have Business Conservatives. On the other you have the Tea Party, the crowd that fellow Republican Devin Nunes (probably best viewed as a TradCon in the model I offer above) called “lemmings with suicide vests.” In truth, the machinations and tensions are considerably more nuanced, but this is a nice starting point for those interested in thinking more deeply about the American brand of coalition politics. Such a study will certainly want to pause and reflect on the fact that in this, the most toxic, anti-rational environment many of us have ever seen, Mitch McConnell actually looks like the GOP’s most responsible adult.

“There will not be another government shutdown. You can count on that,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “Shutting down the government, in my view, is not conservative policy.”

If you can get past the idea that Republican lunacy represents legitimately tragic consequences for millions of our fellow citizens, the whole smoking dumpster fire makes for fascinating theatre. So let’s all grab a beer and some popcorn, kick back and enjoy, as best we can, the spectacle of McCain and McConnell vs. the suicide bomber wing of the Republican Party.

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